The rain tap danced on the ceiling, the longer I sat there waiting the more I was convinced a huge splash would crash through and crush me to death.
"What the hell are you doing up there?" I yelled upstairs to Dave.
"Nothing," he appeared at the landing draped in his worn out leather jacket, thin layer of eye-liner applied.
"You're still going with the make up thing?"
"What do you mean?" he asked innocently, then nodded as if he realized my error, "Oh this? No I know it looks like eye liner but I'm just really tired. I haven't slept well in like a week."
"Yeah. You're full of shit," I said and we headed out to the car.
It was cold out; one of those horrible February nights that reminded you summer was a long ways off.
"Are you driving?" I asked.
"No, you drive," Dave insisted.
Fine. I'll drive. My white 1986 Pontiac Grand Am was more comfortable than Dave's rusting Coupe De Ville.
Dave got in and grabbed my pack of cigarettes off the dashboard, took one and lit it.
I wanted to ask if there was anything else he needed from me but I remembered that he had lent me $5 yesterday which I had used to buy said pack of cigarettes.
I had a better way of getting back at him; while we waited for the car to heat up I reached under the seat for my case of tapes, I had a special row of things that Dave hated, specifically Hagar-era Van Halen and post-heroin Aerosmith.
Dave had worn out his copy of Metallica's black album and whatever the last Megadeth album was, I didn't know because I was never really into them. And to be honest I wasn't really into Van Hagar or Aerosmith anymore either (though I did revisit Pump once in a while).
"Oh man, you're killing me, OU812? You don't have anything with Roth on it?" Dave winced.
"Yeah I have the case for 1984, but I lost the tape."
It occurred to me as we drove with the window cracked just enough to let the cigarette smoke get sucked out, that I was kind of sick of music.
If you had access to a database with every song in recorded history and told me I had my pick I'd have no idea what to put on. I thought I had everything I wanted at this point and heard it 500 times already. I listened to every tape I had until the point of almost wearing them out, I had mix cassettes filled with songs I taped off the radio or from friend's collections but I didn't have any preference any more.
We were going to see a band perform in some dark basement club somewhere near but not quite in the city. I knew the name of the club was the Hellfire which made me hate it right off the bat. I knew how to get there because it was near a bar called Mulligan's that I'd been to earlier in the year due to their relaxed attitude regarding checking I.D. That was my back up plan should the Hellfire flame out. Yes, that was a terrible pun.
It was always night in the late 80's, if you remember otherwise you are mistaken. Everything was dark and peppered with bright neon lights and saxophone solos.
We parked on the street right in front of Mulligans and walked the icy block to the small line outside the Hellfire. Once the doors opened red lights and a combination of fog machine and cigarette smoke poured out. Rows of faces and the buzz of dozens of different conversations reduced The Cure to background noise leaking out of the crooked speakers dug into the corner of the room.
"Maybe we should just go to Mulligans" I suggested to Dave.
"What?" he yelled.
We fought our way through the lumps of people holding beer bottles and neon glasses of booze. Everyone looked at us but no one noticed us. Everyone was tarted up in black leather and bright make up. All the pretty girls with blood red lips. We were just conveyor belt extras in their little movie, pushing past them to get nowhere in particular.
We got into the back room. It was a smaller room with a short bar set up. You'd have though more people would have retreated here if only to hear each other speak or get a quicker drink, but these people were peacocks. They weren't here to listen to each other talk, or get a quick drink they were here to see who else was here and who looked better and hope for drama to unfold as the night went on and everyone's vision got blurrier and the music got louder.
The thrill of getting served at a bar hadn't worn off and when the bartender didn't give me a second look when I ordered a Miller I couldn't help but feeling slightly impressed with myself.
After handing him $10 for it and only getting back a few singles and some change I did some quick math and realized the drinking portion of the evening was not going to last too long.
"So you want to go down and see these guys are what?" I asked Dave.
"What's your rush?" he asked, sucking back on a Miller of his own.
"Nothing going on in here, and besides I'm almost out of money already."
He nodded disappointedly and we made our way down a narrow hallway, again lit with a red flood light. The hallway was much quieter and littered with flyers of shows long since past. Sometime around my 17th birthday a government micro-chip was implanted in to my brain causing me to be cynical about such things. This club looked old, but it just looked old. They wanted it to look like the New York Dolls had blown through here in 1975 and did coke in the coat room. And maybe they had but there was something new about this place. Like the pain hadn't quite dried yet. Like they designed it around pictures they'd seen of CBGB's.
A long stairway lead to the basement the club was actually called something different, like Ludlo's at the Hellfire club or something like that. It smelled, well it smelled like a basement; an unspecific musk of moisture and mold. The ceiling was low and it was freezing. A few electric heaters were plugged in but I suspected that the group of 50 or so people packed in tightly was creating more heat.
The band was all in black, leather, pale face make up, thick eyeliner. A low and lazy synthesizer growled over a muddy bass line. There was no drummer, just a girl with red blouse, fashionably torn at the neck, green eyes raccooned in thick black and shiny red lips, tapping on a cow bell and dancing with the tinny beat piping in through the P.A.
"That's the singer's girlfriend, I think they let her do that because she was hanging around all the time," Dave semi-shouted in my ear.
"No it's really good, adds a whole other layer," I answered sarcastically.
The singer brooded up to the microphone fully practiced in the art of Jim Morrisoning the stage. He stalked, he sulked, he winced as if a thousand invisible daggers pierced his silk shirt and leather pants. Each song was drenched in moody baritones and it was difficult to tell if one song had stopped and another started or if this was just one long performance piece.
Occassionally the singer slurred "yeh c'mon" and a new guitar riff would start chugging along amidst a smattering of applause.
A fairly large group entered the room, most of them had greasy looking shoulder length hair. They were wearing things like brown leather blazers and ratty torn up cardigans. One had shorts with tie-dyed thermal leggings underneath and combat boots. They were a strange looking bunch after they walked in they spread out across the room, hands in their pockets, they averted eye contact with anyone.
"Alright this is gonna be our last one, we want to thank you all for coming out tonight, we are the Crystal Souls, that's Matty Bizzare on bass, Roberto Strange on keyboards, Nicholas Insanity on guitars, and the beautiful Lisa Macabre on back up vocals, I'm Lax Panic and this is called And Then Love Dies, thank you guys!"
Then Lax Panic's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he let his head fall back as the drums rolled into a blast of sound, as if everyone was hitting every note on every instrument.
A flood of light came from the stage. Green and Blue. It shot out of the corners of the room right at the band. The music stopped.
"Alright, that's enough!" one of the greasy haired men yelled. He was holding a Fender guitar where the light had shot out from.
"Who the hell are you guys?" Lax Panic asked.
"I'm Mark Arm and we are here to stop you!"
"What do you mean 'we'?" Lax shot back.
"You didn't really think I'd come alone did you, Lax? Kurt, Eddie, Chris, Layne, fall in," the other men, now also holding guitars like rifles fell in closer.
"You won't be dropping any more of your tinny beats in this place," the one with long curly hair and a poodle face announced proudly.
"Oh yeah?" Lisa Macabre asked with a devilish smile. She reached to the floor and grabbed a cable glowing flouresent pink. She plugged it into the amplifier another loud burst and everyone in the band was transformed; their hair was streaked blonde and teased out with what must have taken gallons and gallons of hair spray. Their black leather was replaced with leopard and zebra prints, scarves, spandex, cowboy boots, and ripped up t-shirts.
Nicholas Insanity started playing some gently distorted power chords.
Lax Panic, now wearing a tiger striped cowboy hat strutted confidently up to his microphone stand:
"You know my baby, she looks so good.....when I get home you know it's understood. That I've got to got to got to got have it!"
The rest of the band kicked in. Lisa Macabre was now dancing seductively around a pole.
Matty Strange and Nicholas Insanity played back to back for a few minutes and then played at each other smiling as if every chord change was a magic trick.
"This is bad. Kurt take your Stratocaster and try to flank them from the left, Eddie, I want you and Layne to try to divert there attention right. And where the hell is Lanegan?"
"Got held up at a Stryper show in Denver," one of them said.
"Okay,then it's up to us. On three then let's do it!"
The men took their positions while the band kept playing:
"Then my baby comes back from work, she's looking real good!"
Again beams of blue and green light hit the stage and again a loud screech and a blinding flash of light that slowly dissolved.
"Is that it? Are they gone?" Kurt yelled.
Slowly smoke rose up around the stage and a few notes played.
A scream crept up through the notes.
My God it was awful.
"It's worse than we imagined" Eddie said soberly.
"They've, they've turned into Guns n' Roses."
"Layne, Chris, get these people out of here before it's too late. Kurt, Eddie, follow me, set your Fenders to 10," Mark Arm shouted over his shoulder as he charged the stage.
We were stampeded out as people began hurrying up the stairs pushing us along like a wave of mutilation, sounds of broken guitars and cymbals crashing echoed up the hallway until finally we were back in the red lit bar that now seemed quiet by comparison.
Dave looked at me and took a deep breath.
"I don't know. I thought they were pretty good."
"Dave they were terrible," I said shaking my head.
We headed over to Mulligan's for a few cheap drafts. Dave continued to defend the artistic integrity of Lax Panic and his band, and what do I know, maybe he's right.
After all it was the 80's and things were weird.